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What to Know Before You Build a Shipping Container Home

What to Know Before You Build a Shipping Container Home
7 min. read
Woman relaxing on a shipping container home

Image: Halfpoint / Shutterstock.com

The idea of creating a shipping container home appeals to many people. It’s a way to build a new home out of steel containers that would otherwise just be lying around unused. But, while you might imagine that constructing a home from these used containers stacked together would be simple, a construction project like this isn’t as straightforward as it might appear to be.

When you build a container house, there are many things you need to know before you begin. As you might expect, shipping container homes bring different challenges than traditional housing selections. As such, it will be essential to do your due diligence before committing to a container home project. Below are some essential factors to consider when making this choice.

Follow Local Building Codes

Although shipping container housing is becoming more popular, many towns and counties have certain building code restrictions on these homes. As a result, there could be rules set at any level of government that might prevent you from building the home you want. So, before you commit to building a container house, learn about your area’s zoning rules. Similarly, visit the city or town hall to find out whether it would even be feasible to build a container home.

Find Containers

Once you get the okay from your local municipality, start your search for an appropriate container to use. Note that while some national suppliers can deliver containers to you in just a few days, this might not be your best option. Rather, if your budget allows, consider purchasing what is referred to as a “high cube” container, which is a foot taller than standard versions.

Meanwhile, if one of your reasons for choosing a shipping container home is sustainability, know that transporting the container to your construction site does have an environmental effect, too. Therefore, if you can find the containers you need closer to home, you’ll not only reduce your carbon footprint, but also your delivery costs, as well.

Inspect Your Container

Before you buy a used container, inspect its condition, if possible. If it’s located somewhere far away, ask the seller for photographs and a clear description of the shipping container. This way, you should be able to see if there are any dents, structural issues, and/or rust on the container.

Additionally, to minimize damage to your container, you can pay extra for shipping containers that have only been used once. These single-use containers will be more expensive, but will likely save you money in the long term because they’ll require fewer resources to fix them up.

Finance Your Project

As you might expect, securing financing for a shipping container home will also be a bit more challenging. Of course, the lender will ensure that you have an excellent credit score like any other housing project. Then, if you already own the land on which you’ll construct the container home, you’ll probably want to get a construction loan. You would then pay your contractors and vendors from the construction money provided by the lender. Alternatively, if you don’t have the land yet and won’t be building your container home for a while, you might be better off getting a land loan, instead.

Hire a Contractor

Unless you’re planning to build your home yourself, you’ll want to find a contractor who can manage the entire project. This can be difficult because this is a fairly new method of constructing homes, but there are contractors with relevant experience — although they are few and far between. However, a knowledgeable contractor will make your project run much smoother. To get started, search online for “container home contractor near me” or “container home builder near me.”

Stay Safe

When you buy used shipping containers for your property, you need to make sure they’re safe. That’s because they’ve been designed to withstand harsh conditions — rather than be the foundation for someone’s home. As a result, the flooring could include pesticides to deter rats and other rodents. The containers could also have been painted with chemicals to withstand saltwater corrosion, which you don’t want in your home. The floor will also need to be removed, and insulation will offer some protection from paint gases. Even so, if you don’t want to take the risk, it is possible to buy new containers that don’t have these issues, although they are going to cost more.

Limit Cuts to Containers

Shipping containers are very strong, which allows them to be stacked. However, the more you cut into them, the less strength they have. Accordingly, if too many cuts are made, the integrity of the steel box will be at risk and reinforcement will be necessary, which will add a considerable expense to your build. But, if you cut too many holes in the containers, it will be essential.

Plan for Utilities

If you’re designing your shipping container home, be sure you know where utilities will enter and leave your property. This will ensure that your contractor can cut holes for plumbing and electrical requirements in the correct places — without needing to go back and make changes once the interior has been finished.

Insulate Your Container

Keep in mind that a steel box will get very warm in the summer and very cold in the winter. To account for this, your home must have sufficient insulation to protect from both extremes. And, while foam insulation can be sprayed onto the walls of the container, don’t forget that you also need insulation on the ceiling and the floor before you build out the interior. Proper insulation is one of the most vital considerations when building a shipping container house.

Consider Costs

The total cost of this type of home can vary substantially depending on the size of the home, how complicated the design is, and your required level of finish. For example, containers are usually either 20’ or 40’ in length, although you may find a few 45’ options. Plus, the 40-foot containers are sometimes available in what is known as a “high-cube” version as mentioned earlier, which adds an extra foot of headroom above the typical 7’10”. High-cube containers can cost up to $6,000 each.

Meanwhile, the total cost of a container home could be as little as $50,000 — although this would include only a single, 20’ container home. Conversely, if you have a budget of around $200,000, you could afford a fairly spacious two-story home using multiple containers.

Granted, you can save money by doing some of the work yourself, but remember that it can be easy to overestimate your skills or the time you have available. This can lead to projects dragging on for much longer than you might have anticipated when you started. Nonetheless, if you’re managing the construction yourself, budget for somewhere between $15,000 and $25,000 per container.

While shipping containers can appear to be a less expensive alternative to traditional building methods, they can also end up costing just as much. For instance, you might want to finish the home to make the exterior look less like a shipping container, which will increase your costs. The more complex your design, the greater the welding and cutting will be required, thereby adding significant costs to the bottom line. And, as with any home, the grander your plans, the higher the budget will need to be.

Make an Investment

When it comes to investing in real estate, it’s difficult to say whether container homes will turn out to be a good investment. So far, there’s just not enough data to show what the long-term appreciation is in relation to other housing choices, and only time will tell. Either way, this housing option continues to gain popularity.


Of course, shipping container homes are not for everyone, but it is an out-of-the-box housing choice. So, if building a shipping container house interests you, make sure you thoroughly research it.

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